The impact of sibling on the development of a child is vastly under-rated. It’s through interactions with siblings that we learn how to relate to others; how to share, fight, argue, give way and apologise. But a child’s sibling relationships offer so much more.
Their brothers and sisters will be with them for the whole journery. But how much do you know about siblings? Here are ten amazing facts about those wonderful, feisty, fighting siblings:
1. The sibling relationship can’t be replicated
Your parents leave you too soon and your kids and spouse come along late, but your siblings knew you when you were a child. Assuming you all reach a ripe old age, they’ll be with you until the very end, and for that reason, there is an intimacy and a familiarity that can’t possibly be available to you in any other relationship throughout your life. Certainly, people can get along without siblings. Single children do, and there are people who have irreparably estranged relationships with their siblings who live full and satisfying lives,but to have siblings and not make the most of that resource is squandering one of the greatest interpersonal resources you’ll ever have.
2. Our siblings help us lay down the base of our interpersonal skills
When you learn conflict-resolution skills in the playroom, you then practise them on the playground, and that in turn stays with you. If you have a combative sibling or a physically intimidating, older sibling, you learn a lot about how to deal with situations like that later in life. If you’re an older sibling and you have a younger sibling who needs mentoring or is afraid of the dark, you develop nurturing and empathic skills that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
3. Men with sisters are better at talking to girls
There’s a greater degree of sensitivity and listening skills in boys who grew up with sisters. Studies show that when you pair people up in 5- to 15-minute conversations, as if it were a speed date, the males who grew up with sisters tend to do better than the ones who grew up with brothers or as only children. Similarly, the females with brothers tend to do better with boys. This is because you learn a little bit about how to turn the tumblers of the opposite sex.
4. Oldest children do get an IQ and linguistic advantage
Older siblings get more total-immersion mentoring with their parents before younger siblings come along. As a result, they get an IQ and linguistic advantage because they are the exclusive focus of their parents’ attention. The idea of what businesses call “sunk costs” comes into play here, which means that by the time an older child is 2 or 3 years old, parents have sunk a great deal of time, physical resources and emotional energy into them. There’s a lot of parental focus on the older child, even if they’re not aware they’re doing it.
5. Middle children really do get the shaft in terms of parental attention
Middle children (and many second borns) tend to invest in greater ways in friendships outside the home and be much less connected to the family. Birth order research consistently shows that second and/or middle children generally are first to flee the family nest presumably as they seek their sense of belonging outside of the family. As well flexibility, which is a trademark of this cohort enables them to cope better away from the family home.
6. And youngest kids use different skills to get by
Youngest kids tend to develop a greater ability to use low-power strategies, like getting inside the minds of and charming other people, because they’re the smallest child in the house. When you can’t thump your older siblings to get what you need, you learn to disarm them by being funny, or you learn to have a better intuitive sense. The biggest advantage a youngest child gets that middle children do not is to eventually become an only child.”
7. Property is the biggest cause of conflict among siblings
Property is the biggest issue sibling fight over. With very young kids, when researchers look at what the causes of fights are, some 80 percent of all fights in the playroom break out over property disputes. Parents shouldn’t just roll their eyes, even though conflicts over sharing are so common, because property for a small child is a critical way of establishing authority and control over a world in which they have virtually no power.
8. Parental conflict can make sibling relationships stronger (think divorce, or parental abuse)
When your parents, who are the anchors you’re counting on the most, are falling down on the job, siblings look to each other and find ways to pull together, because the last thing you can afford to see fractured at that point is the unit among yourselves.
9. Parents don’t treat children equally.
Parents can’t treat children equally, because they’re very different people and they have different needs. Age is the obvious driver of this, because older children will get certain privileges and freedoms that younger kids don’t get, and younger kids will get indulgences that older children won’t get. But if your older child is a natural student and your younger child is a natural artist or athlete, you’ve got to look early at what the aptitudes are — not only to support them but also to celebrate them. It’s important to understand that kids will often de-identify from their older siblings. Parents have to be aware that it is critical for kids to find their niche in the family as the smart one, the pretty one, the funny one or the athlete.
10. Kids without siblings get greater exposure to the adult world before those with siblings
Only children tend to exceed other kids in terms of academic accomplishments, sophistication, vocabulary, and often, social skills. They have a great ability to make and maintain friends, and to resolve conflict, because they have to be nimble about learning skills outside the home, like in daycare, play groups, and school. One of the advantages of being an only child at home is that the conversations you hear and participate in, the TV shows you watch, and the vacations you go on tend to skew older. All these things become food for the developing brain, and by the time the child is in first grade, he or she has a background in adult thinking and abstract concepts that children with siblings just don’t get.
Join me to find out how to promote healthy sibling relationships in my webinar Sibling fighting: What to do.